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What a GOP Senate Takeover Means for Dodd-Frank, CFPB, User Fees

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While a Republican takeover of the Senate will likely mean revisions to the Dodd-Frank Act as well as to the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a GOP majority will not hamper advisory groups’ efforts to secure backers of a Senate bill that allows the Securities and Exchange Commission to collect user fees to fund advisor exams.

With two weeks remaining until the midterm elections, numerous polls predict that Republicans will win a Senate majority.

Indeed, Greg Valliere, chief political strategist with Potomac Research, said in his Tuesday commentary that Potomac is “sticking” with a 65% chance of a GOP takeover, which is “based on our belief that the GOP will lose no more than one of its seats while the Democrats are likely to lose at least seven — West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska and either Colorado or Iowa.”

GOP challengers, Valliere said, are also close in North Carolina and New Hampshire. “While the Senate still looks close, the House could be a GOP blowout,” he said.

David Tittsworth, president and CEO of the Investment Adviser Association, adds that because “no one is predicting that Democrats will achieve a majority” in the House, “it’s thus likely that the Financial Services Committee will continue to be chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, although some of the subcommittee chairs might shift.”

Just six Senate seats are needed for control to shift, adds Joe Lieber of Washington Analysis in his recent commentary. “Polls in Iowa and Colorado — two toss-up races — are improving for the GOPs,” Lieber says. “While a poll in Kentucky shows the Democratic challenger to Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with the lead, this may be an outlier, as nearly every other recent poll has McConnell ahead. In Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who was recently lagging, is now leading. Meanwhile, the Republican-held Georgia seat is now looking more competitive, as is South Dakota.”

All in all, however, Lieber says, “things still look good for the GOP, and the majority of prominent political observers and organizations share our perspective.”

Aaron Klein, director of the Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, told ThinkAdvisor in a recent interview that a Republican takeover of the Senate “increases the probability [that there will be] a set of reforms to Dodd-Frank, which could improve the function of the bill.”

For instance, he said, under Dodd-Frank, the threshold at which bank holding companies are subject to enhanced prudential supervision, known as the systemically important financial institution (SIFI) threshold, was set at $50 billion in consolidated assets, which is “too low.” The Bipartisan Policy Center has recommended that the threshold be raised to $250 billion, while Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo has proposed raising it to $100 billion. “I think you’ll see bipartisan support for raising it,” Klein said.

Outright repeal of Dodd-Frank, however, is unlikely, Peter Wallison, the Arthur F. Burns fellow in financial policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, told ThinkAdvisor. While neither Hensarling nor Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee — who will likely replace retiring chairman Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., — voted for Dodd-Frank, “the problem with repeal is that the law is perceived as tough on the banks, and thus voting to repeal can be seen as doing the bidding of the big ‘Wall Street’ banks,” Wallison says.

However, Wallison adds, “this isn’t true for two major reasons.”

First, “Dodd-Frank burdens the banking industry with so much regulation that it actually works to the benefit of the largest banks,” he says. “Only they can handle the costs of the new regulation. [JPMorgan CEO] Jamie Dimon called [Dodd-Frank] a ‘big moat against competition,’ and he was right.”

Second, “the financial crisis was actually caused not by the banks but by government housing policies,” Wallison continues. “It is possible that this idea will become better understood when the Republicans — who generally believe that government housing policies were responsible for the crisis — begin to talk about it and have the power (through control of the Senate) to chip away at Dodd-Frank.”

There will “almost certainly be” movement in both the House and the Senate “to turn the CFPB into a standard form of bipartisan commission,” as opposed to having one director, “and subject it to normal [congressional] appropriations,” Wallison adds.

Indeed, Klein points out that Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, co-sponsored along with 10 other Republican senators S. 1301, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection-Inspector General Reform Act of 2013, which would create a separate inspector general for the CFPB who would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Before joining the BPC, Klein served for more than eight years on the Senate Banking Committee’s staff, including as its chief economist. With Shelby expected to take the helm of the committee, and with a GOP controlled-Senate, “I think there will be an aggressive oversight agenda,” he said. “Regulators will be more frequently called to testify on their actions.”

Having worked with Shelby during his time at the committee, Klein says that Shelby was “thoughtful, bipartisan and pragmatic.” As the potential new chairman of the committee, Shelby will likely “be interested in data security and consumer privacy.”

As to gaining bipartisan support in the Senate for a bill that would allow the SEC to collect user fees from advisors to fund their exams, the Financial Planning Coalition told ThinkAdvisor in an email statement that a user-fee bill “is a bipartisan, investor protection issue,” and that the Coalition looks forward to continuing to work with Senate Banking now and after the election to  “secure both Republican and Democrat sponsors.”

Indeed, Tittsworth says that IAA’s efforts on Capitol Hill “have been aimed at gaining bipartisan support in the Senate” for user-fees legislation. “Without bipartisan support, it’s unlikely that anything will happen.”

Neil Simon, vice president of government relations for IAA, adds that he doesn’t see the possible Republican takeover in the Senate as a “hindrance” to advisory groups gaining consideration of a user-fee bill in the Senate.

Tittsworth predicted in his recent ThinkAdvisor blog that the House user-fees bill, H.R. 1627, the Investment Adviser Examination Improvement Act of 2013, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., “will gain additional cosponsors — including Republicans — before the year is out.”

“It’s even possible,” Tittsworth opined, “that similar bipartisan legislation [to Waters’ bill] will be introduced in the Senate, setting the stage for serious consideration of the bill” in 2015.

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